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Recently I read that someone made Windows 95 run on a smart watch:

My thoughts were: Other than a hack, what is this good for? I have not even figured out what a smart watch could do for me and this guy already showed that Windows (an old version of) can start on a tiny mobile device. What do I make of this? I think there are a few points to this.

Mobile hardware is no longer a limitation

For a long time, mobile solutions were built around the hardware specifications and solution discussions started actually with the hardware talk. But today, similar to other technical products like cars, TVs and so on, specs are less important because the average product meets the average need. So you can ignore the specs in most cases. What’s the focus now is usability, and this means a good fit to the use case. Like a smaller car for the city, a bigger TV for the living room, a simpler app for expenses, a more complex app for a field worker building transmission lines and – a big screen or two, a keyboard, mouse, desk, chair, corded phone for a call center agent. Right?

So where are use case the limits for mobile apps? It’s our ability to model business processes well and design good apps. Similar to taking a small city car to a remote area, which will get stuck in the first mud hole, it does not make sense to run the regular call center application on a phone or tablet (or even a smart watch). One would get stuck in a customer call not being able to keep pace and complete a move-to-another-premise scenario in 5 minutes unless we design the right app for this use case.

Do certain mobile apps make sense?

If we built it, would they come? Does a mobile app for a call center agent make sense? I get this question more often than you would think. Let’s challenge the limits that we see and redesign this. Why not? Let’s run a call center on a tablet.

Call center agents are measured in minutes and seconds. Dropped customer calls or above average call handling times are a Damocles sword. The application they use allows quick and extensive search functions, a sub-second response time for nearly every request, and navigating through multiple data entry and history screens occurs in every call. We might believe that this does not work well on a tablet or using touch. Correct? Wait a moment. What do you hear during the average call? Long pauses while the agent is typing and clicking. Similar to when I check into a hotel, I have to stand there and witness how the keyboard gets hammered. For 2 minutes or so the tab and enter key get worked like game controller buttons before I get the room key. A lot of time is consumed because the application requires it, not the end user.

Can we actually have a call center app for mobile?

Let’s check a few points. Using a demanding app over wireless or cellular? Yes, it’s a bit slower but in most areas fast enough. If we load a little less data we get the same speed. Can the telephony work with mobile devices? Yes. Can the call center app run on a tablet, using any operating system? Yes. As long as the app design accounts for the best use of a smaller touch screen, this works well. The app is certainly not a miniature version of the typical call center app. It would require less typing, for example a one field smart search is perfect because after 3-5 taps I get the customer or premise. It displays less data. Today's call center screens display too much data on average and have 50+ menu items, nearly all the bills, all the meter reads, every financial document. Instead of me finding relevant data, the app should prioritize and show this on 1-2 screens. If I needed more, tap, tap. Would the app itself be fast enough? Not a problem. An HTML app is always a bit slower but a native app solves this.

Can you see this app? I can. Just look at common self check-in, cash register or restaurant order apps that are running everywhere. They are regular touch screen apps, in most cases using a mobile connection. Speed is essential, if that didn’t work, there would still be keyboards. The hardware is standard and the app is very customized for high usability. A server in a restaurant with 50+ menu items is able to enter all the special requests you make, like ‘without this, extra that and that on the side’ quickly into the order app for the kitchen ticket. If this works, then a move-to-another-premise can work as well.

Bottom line: If you were a call center agent and I took away your desktop, monitors, keyboard and mouse and gave you a tablet instead, you think were slower and could not do your job. I would say instead of click, click, hack, it's now tap, tap, swipe. But I would also take you desk, your chair, your phone. Then I give you a beanbag chair, gaming headphones and you are free to go anywhere else. Would you take it?

Cheers, Robert